Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press

By Stanley E. Flink | Go to book overview

4
POMP AND PROVENANCE

The Bill of Rights wouldn't pass, if they voted today. We started talking about the Pentagon Papers. That was not a very good First Amendment opinion by the Court. In the first place, there were nine opinions and one of the justices, White, was begging the government to prosecute all of us for criminal violation, even though he never read the Papers. None of them had read the Papers. The prosecutor didn't read them. Griswold says he didn't read them. But, you know, if you're confident enough about your country to take a really long view, the First Amendment is such a superb document that you have to think that even if the pendulum swings a little bit, it will be back.

-- Ben Bradlee, former editor of the Washington Post

Despite the triumph made over seditious libel, the press as a sentinel was never in greater danger constitutionally than in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The federal government was the protagonist this time, and the press, represented by its most prestigious practitioners, contemplated its options and chose, finally, to fight. The issue was, as it may well be again in the years ahead, national security. The next battle will have to confront the vast dispersal of information resources and the phenomenon of "real time" reporting, the "first draft of history" happening live on camera and witnessed by millions of viewers. One aspect of national security, however, that is unlikely to change, whatever else may change, is the secrecy surrounding policy decisions, which will always be in play so long as there is a free press. No story embodies the contest between public information rights and official secrecy more dramatically than that attempt to write a second, contextual "draft of history" called the Pentagon Papers.

In the literal sense, it was a history of the Vietnam involvement, but it was, as its appointed organizer, Leslie Gelb, described it, "Not so much a documentary history as a history based solely on documents -- checked and rechecked with ant-like diligence. . . . We could not get into the minds of the decision makers, we were not present at the decisions, and we often

-45-

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Sentinel under Siege: The Triumphs and Troubles of America's Free Press
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - IN SEARCH OF A ROLE 5
  • 2 - THE PRESS AND THE LAW 18
  • 3 - MALICE WITHOUT WIT 29
  • 4 - POMP AND PROVENANCE 45
  • 5 - PRACTICING FREEDOM 70
  • 6 - THE LIMITS OF LIBERTY 78
  • 7 - CRAFTING A CONSTITUTION 87
  • 8 - SAFEGUARDING LIBERTY 95
  • 9 - ENLARGING THE FOURTH ESTATE 100
  • 10 - THE BLOODIEST WAR 112
  • 11 - THE BOTTOM LINES 120
  • 12 - TURNING AWAY 140
  • 13 - THE FIRST AND THE FOURTEENTH 149
  • 16 - TRASH AND FLASH 172
  • 17 - THE IS AND THE OUGHT 180
  • 18 - THE CRITICS 188
  • 19 - FEAR AND LOATHING 197
  • 20 - THE WEIGHT OF OBLIGATIONS 209
  • 21 - THE PARADOX OF SELF-GOVERNMENT 218
  • 22 - LIBEL AND LIABILITY 234
  • 23 - FREE AS THE AIR 244
  • 24 - TRAINING THE WATCHDOGS 256
  • EPILOGUEO: PATHFINDING 262
  • Notes 271
  • SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 301
  • ABOUT THE BOOK AND AUTHOR 309
  • Index 311
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